Wait, why is a video essay featured in a series on MBA interviews?
Because it works like an interview in its visual presentation of you and it functions like a conversation.
Kellogg, Yale, and Rotman have included required video essays (or “screen tests” as Poets & Quants dubs this element) in their applications. It’s been an option, rather infrequently used, at NYU Stern for years.
Why adcoms use this method:
• It allows the adcom to see the applicants respond in almost-real-time to questions.
• It allows the adcom to test applicants’ ability to organize their thoughts and present a response both meaningful and succinct.
• Applicants “shine” in different ways, and an applicant who shines in interpersonal communication and charisma may not make it through to a competitive interview with written essays; now the adcom can spot these applicants.
• Similarly, someone may shine in the conventional written essays, but be inappropriate or unprofessional in presentation, and the adcom can now spot and weed out these applicants early, without expending additional resources on interviews.
Process: Basically, you click on a link in the application, and you are given a question to answer. You are being timed, so you can’t halt the process, go away for an hour and plan a careful response. Rather, the application gives you a minute or so to compose your thoughts. Then you have a short window, usually one to two minutes, to video-record your answer. You can view your response, but you can’t change it. Sometimes the application give you a few “tries,” but you can’t re-record an answer if you don’t like what you did the first time. You can only move on to the next question. The reason is that the adcoms are trying to avoid a rehearsed, nonspontaneous reply. The last question is literally your last chance in the video essay – you can’t go back and redo earlier attempts.
Benefits and pitfalls for applicants:
• Benefit: if you present yourself comfortably and are photogenic, the medium plays to these strengths.
• Benefit: the process may take less time than a written essay.
• Benefit: for non-native English speakers, you can demonstrate solid English speaking skills—especially beneficial if you have a low verbal GMAT score and/or borderline TOEFL.
• Benefit: The skills and attributes it highlights differ from and complement those highlighted by written essays, improving the chances for different kinds of applicants to shine in the initial application.
• Pitfall: you have a limited time and can’t second guess your answer; once it’s done it’s done (whereas with a written essay you can revise it up until submission if you have further thoughts for improving it).
• Pitfall: although the adcoms call it a conversation, it actually isn’t very natural or comfortable to talk into a camera with no human response; some people need a lot of practice to overcome a strange sensation with this medium.
• Pitfall: for people who are methodical, the short prep and answer time works against your natural inclination and doesn’t play to your strength.
• Pitfall: you’re at the mercy of well-functioning technology and Internet connections.
While not exactly a pitfall, there’s also the reality that even though adcoms strive for objectivity in evaluating applicants, the video essay creates the potential for them to be subjectively influenced (pro or con) by an applicant’s physical appearance early in the “weeding” process.
How to make this type of interview work for you (this is in addition to all the common sense advice for good MBA interviews):
• Review Accepted.com’s tips for this interview format.
• Practice with a video camera, YouTube, or other formats, speaking to a camera without a person involved.
• Practice coming up with short answers to a range of questions – limit your prep time so it’s similar to the video essay’s, and find a technique that works for you for gathering your thoughts quickly and identifying a key point or message.
• Consider the whole visual picture: not just having hair combed and appropriate attire, but also the background and lighting – all should enhance the presentation.
• The adcoms say they want a spontaneous, natural experience of the applicant, but it may not be natural for you to look at and speak to a non-responsive camera. It’s the illusion of naturalism; it’s acting, it’s performance, essentially. To create your best impression, understand and analyze your gestures, cadence, tone – what makes your presentation reflect “you” effectively? A good actor is deliberately and thoughtfully natural, not mindlessly natural. You’re actually performing your best self.
By Cindy Tokumitsu, co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Admissions Success, and author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her last fifteen years with Accepted.com.